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Family Drama -- Aunt revisited
March 26, 2013 10:19 AM   Subscribe

I wrote this question about my Aunt. As it turned out, I just wrote back a very polite reply -- "thank you for your good wishes" ...I was polite. I felt good about this. Thank you for all the helpful answers. My Aunt wrote me again -- long story inside. Thank you for taking the time to read it.

My Aunt wrote me again -- she has sent me another email telling an elderly family member has died. She said she "was sure I would want to know" and included all the service details -- date, time, location etc. I have not seen that other relative in over a decade (nor any of my relatives on that side for that matter). I sent very nice flowers to the funeral home.

I don't want to go to the service, it would make me feel very uncomfortable. Just thinking about going puts makes me upset. And, I feel it would make the others feel very uncomfortable too, given the fact my father disowned me. He will be there. I can’t even imagine what his response to me would be. I fully admit that I am afraid to find out.

My relatives know we don't speak, but I don’t know if they have any idea why – I doubt it. I doubt my Aunt has told anyone.

I think if I go, there will be family drama and this would take away from the family's mourning. I don't want that. My presence -- I am sure -- will be a distraction to the mourners. Also, I know my family -- they will be questions about what's going on: yes, even at a funeral. They will also notice -- what I can only imagine would be – very bad vibes between my father and me.

I don’t want to get into why my Father wants nothing to do with me at a funeral. Secondly seeing my father will be very difficult for me, given he wants nothing to do with me.

My father did not tell me about this death himself. He knows how to reach me, as does his wife. If he wanted me to know he could have told me himself. The same way he could have told me he was very ill.

So getting back to my Aunt – she says she told me about this death because she “was sure I would want to know"… I think this is what I am peeved about. I would want to know this and not about my father’s illness? (She does not know I know about the illness.)

Really I am in a bit of a state and I am not totally sure why my feelings are. I plan to talk to my therapist about this when I have my next appointment. But I am hoping for some feedback now from people who can look at this without my baggage.

It boils down to this:

"tl;dr" (an attempt at)

My Aunt did not tell me Father had very serious surgery (a life or death matter) and yet she tells me news of another relative’s death because she “was sure I would want to know"…

In both cases, my father did not elect to tell me about these things himself. In both cases, it is quite clear to me that my father does not wish me involved.

I know my Aunt perhaps did not tell me because my father didn’t want me to know. Yet, she tells me the news of this death. I know she may be in a hard place. But the fact is she is choosing what to tell and not tell me. It feels manipulative. And also, I think it’ odd that she’d expect me to go to a funeral where my father will be. Drama is inevitable.

I (think I) want to tell my Aunt (not now – the timing is bad, but later) that I don’t feel I can go to any family events given the situation with father and I hope she understands it is he whose had made this choice, not me.

If he wants me back in the family, then he (and only he) should let me know directly. If he does not, I accept his decisions, but this means sadly that being disowned makes unable to attend family functions where I feel I would not be welcome by father.

I also want to mention the fact I know about his very serious illness and surgery and that he did not want me know about it. This makes me feel certain that he still wishes to have no contact obviously.

But saying that strikes me as fueling the fire and being very manipulative myself. So I am thinking not to go there...

Or – should I leave it alone and say nothing to my Aunt? She will see I am not at the funeral and she (and all the others) will see that I sent flowers.

They will probably think I am being disrespectful by not coming and they may wonder what is going on (since I doubt my Aunt has told the others what the situation is) but that is not my issue.

Sorry for the jumbled narrative. I am leaning towards (after all this typing) saying nothing to my Aunt seeing what happens. Should I say nothing?
posted by Lescha to Human Relations (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
"Thank you so much for the news. I shall send along flowers to the services."
posted by xingcat at 10:29 AM on March 26, 2013 [19 favorites]


Send some flowers, maybe a card and just reply something like "Thank you for the information, I'm sorry to hear Aunt XYZ has passed. Everyone is in my prayers, however I will be unable to attend the service".

Don't sweat it more then you have to.
posted by lpcxa0 at 10:29 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Your aunt doesn't want to open a conversation about your father. That, frankly, seems like a reasonable position.

I think if I go, there will be family drama and this would take away from the family's mourning. I don't want that. My presence -- I am sure -- will be a distraction to the mourners.

That, fancied up a bit, sounds like a reasonable thing to say, to me.
posted by Leon at 10:30 AM on March 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


I know she may be in a hard place. But the fact is she is choosing what to tell and not tell me. It feels manipulative. And also, I think it’ odd that she’d expect me to go to a funeral where my father will be.

Your aunt knows that your father disowned you, so she probably thinks (possibly has been told flat-out) that he doesn't want you to know about his illness, and she's choosing to respect that. But this other relative is a different story (I presume that person didn't disown you, and probably doesn't even know about the drama). From what you've written, it doesn't sound like your aunt was inviting you to the funeral, or even expecting that you would go. She was probably looking for the exact actions you took -- sending flowers, possibly thinking about the good things that elderly family member did; in short, being a part of the remembrance of a life that has ended. You can do these things without causing any drama, and she can push them into motion without causing any drama either.

Maybe in the back of her mind, she's hoping that you'll show up, and your father will realize how short our stupid little lives are and how the only thing that most of us really have to show for them are our families and the memories of the people we touched along the way, and he'll cry and give you a hug and apologize. It's not a likely outcome, but it would be pretty good, and if she could have a small part in that, well, that ain't a bad legacy either. You really can't blame her for at least trying to facilitate that.

Assume that your aunt is acting in good faith. Don't go to the funeral. Send your aunt a note saying, "Thank you for letting me know." Add in a bit about your favorite memory of that relative. If she asks whether you're coming to the funeral, tell her that you don't think it would be for the best.
posted by Etrigan at 10:31 AM on March 26, 2013 [28 favorites]


She's being a busybody. I have an aunt just like this, and a very similar relationship to my father, her brother. She's trying to fix something that neither you nor your father want to "fix". I'd send some flowers, and tell her thank you for letting you know, you'll be sending an arrangement to the funeral. If she keeps it up, you're allowed to ignore her. She's not entitled to a response to you.
posted by headspace at 10:33 AM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


After reading your last question regarding your aunt's communication, I see her sending the service information as a "so you're in the loop" type thing. She's giving your the power to decide for yourself if you want to be present or not.

You've sent nice flowers so you've acknowledged the deceased even if you don't attend. If attending the services will make you uncomfortable you should pass on it. If you think you'd like to be there, then you should go.

I'm very sorry for your loss.
posted by midnightstorms at 10:35 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do you want to go to the funeral? If yes, go. If not, be grateful to your aunt for giving you the opportunity to consider going.

All this business about her telling you about one thing and not another is beside the point. So she didn't tell you about your father -- he didn't die, did he? She knows you are not communicating, so what would be the point in telling you? Wouldn't you have thought that she was trying to get you to contact your father? Wouldn't you have found that wrong?

Consider this: She knows you are only talking to her and no one else in the family. She felt duty-bound to advise you of a death in the family precisely because no one else would tell you. The reason for telling you was not to push you into some kind of drama-rama with your father. Had she wanted to do that, she would have told you of his illness.

Also, the death in the family is her news to tell. It affects her equally. Your father's illness was his news to share if he chose. He didn't so she didn't feel she had licence.

Stop trying to sort out your aunt's motivations and imagine all kinds of scenarios, especially about how a prodigal return would work out at the funeral.

Instead, consider whether there is any family funeral you'd like to attend. If so, consider if you need to start working on finding a way to be in the presence of your family on a non-death occasion so that you can go to that future funeral. Obviously you can't control how your father acts, but you can control how you do. You can also, to some extent, control when and how this encounter takes place. It may not be for a long time, or ever, but that's where your energies are better spent, if you are not content to just have what you have now -- which is also totally fine.

If you are content to have what you have now -- be content! Stop fussing about your aunt!
posted by girlpublisher at 10:35 AM on March 26, 2013 [30 favorites]


You are getting caught up in a drama swirl and way overthinking this.

Yes, it feels weird that your aunt told you about the funeral and not about the illness. No, you don't have to decide that this means she is manipulating you.

Yes, you are totally free not to attend events where your father may be present. No, you don't need to make a pronouncement about what events she may and may not invite you to.

Yes, you should say acknowledge her note. Or you can say nothing if you prefer.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:36 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


My Aunt did not tell me Father had very serious surgery (a life or death matter) and yet she tells me news of another relative’s death because she “was sure I would want to know"…

Listen, the way your dad reacted and the ensuing fallout is shitty, there's no two ways around that. But I really really hope that you're able to sort of drop this one aspect mentally and move on with the state of dysfunction as whatever it was before you found out about your dad's surgery.

My mom, with whom I have a perfectly fine relationship (not especially close, but completely fine), lives more than 1000 miles away from me. She had cancer last summer and didn't tell me (or my brother). Got diagnosed, didn't tell me. Got surgery, didn't tell me. Came and visited me a few weeks after her surgery and pretended nothing was wrong, and still didn't tell me. If I hadn't been able to tell (a month or so after the visit, over the phone) that my dad was being weird and evasive, and demanded that he tell me what was going on, I probably still wouldn't know. Most of my family doesn't know.

I just want to tell you this because people get weird about illness and sickness and death, and it's really no one's business but their own who they decide to tell. I was hurt--really, really hurt--that my mom didn't tell me. I mean, it's fucking cancer for fucksakes. That's material information that I'd like to know. (I actually did the mefi standard go get therapy for a few weeks because of how upset I was about the whole thing--not just that she was sick, but that something awful could have happened and I wouldn't have found out until it had.)

Anyway, I'm rambling now, but my point is this: your dad may be a shithead, and your family might be handling things toward you totally and completely wrong, but that really has absolutely not a thing to do with you not finding out about his surgery. That can very well be a totally separate thing. Please don't let the fact that you didn't know about it affect how you proceed.
posted by phunniemee at 10:38 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


If she is anything like my family, she is meddling. She feels like she is bound to her brother to not disclose his illness. But she is hoping that seeing you at the funeral might prompt him to be willing to make amends. It's easy to dig a line in a sand when you don't see the other person, and remember that they are human.

It's a risky strategy. But I think funerals are for the living. They're for recognizing our own mortality and rising above petty feuds. There are also a lot of unresolved issues that don't get fixed at funerals, leading to drama.

That is not to say that you need to be a part of this meddling. But I think that it makes perfect sense, and if she is manipulating anyone, she is manipulating your father into feeling some sense of guilt and shame for cutting you off.
posted by politikitty at 10:39 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


she says she told me about this death because she “was sure I would want to know"

I think this is the crux. Hey, she thinks you would want to know, so then maybe you think maybe you should want to know, even if you don't, or haven't thought about this person. You don't have to want to know, though. Saying "thanks" and sending flowers or whatever is a perfectly polite middle-ground.
posted by rhizome at 10:45 AM on March 26, 2013


Don't try to analyze every word of every email or try to guess and second-guess what people are thinking. It's hard to win that game. Just keep up the polite, brief responses as you've been doing.

Speaking of "polite, brief responses", "I'm sure you would like to know" is just one of those common phrases; probably not chosen with specific meaning or intent. Sending the flowers was a nice, good thing; I don't think going to the funeral is necessary, as you have a lot of good reasons not to.

"If he wants me back in the family, then he (and only he) should let me know directly. If he does not, I accept his decisions, but this means sadly that being disowned makes unable to attend family functions where I feel I would not be welcome by father.

I also want to mention the fact I know about his very serious illness and surgery and that he did not want me know about it. This makes me feel certain that he still wishes to have no contact obviously.

But saying that strikes me as fueling the fire and being very manipulative myself."


This doesn't sound like you being manipulative, this sounds like you being realistic, putting your own well-being first AND respecting your dad's wishes - but you've been so twisted around by your dad's crazy that you can't even trust yourself. I think you should keep doing what you're doing and don't let them or anyone get in your way.
posted by bleep at 10:57 AM on March 26, 2013


I am not going to thread sit. I just wanted to say that I was marking best answers -- and I am not sure where to stop. All are so helpful. Thank you everyone. These are all things I need to hear and I am grateful to be part of this place.
posted by Lescha at 11:06 AM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


To echo others above: some version of "Thank you so much for telling me; I'm sorry I won't be able to be there," plus flowers. Perhaps add a line about "how are you doing, I hope this loss hasn't hurt you too badly."

I'm still --- as I was in your previous question --- in favor of giving your aunt the benefit of the doubt: she's at least trying to reach out to you, even if she's doing it clumsily. She knows that you and your father are estranged, so perhaps she's viewing that as too delicate of a matter for her to meddle in.
posted by easily confused at 11:12 AM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


These notes from your aunt have brought out a lot of anxiety for you. It's a terrible feeling and it also gets in the way of doing what's best for yourself. You know you don't want to go to a family funeral and that it would be a bad idea all around -- but a part of your mind is still saying you should go. You can't shut that off until you have something positive to replace it with.

Turn your mind to what's best for you. Whenever you start worrying if others disapprove and what someone thinks of you, deliberately shift over to specific thoughts about your own needs and things that really do matter to you. Your parents clearly don't respect your feelings, and probably never encouraged you to respect them yourself. These hideously uncomfortable situations can be the best times to show yourself some compassion and to value your own needs.
posted by wryly at 11:20 AM on March 26, 2013


Telling extended family members about deceased relatives is one of the primary modes of communication for elderly aunts. It's not intended to send a message or make you feel a certain way, it's just a notification. Give her the benefit of the doubt and respond with another polite, gracious message, or you may simply ignore it.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:26 AM on March 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


"My Aunt wrote me again -- she has sent me another email telling an elderly family member has died. She said she "was sure I would want to know" and included all the service details -- date, time, location etc."

This is a thing older relatives do. It is not actually an invitation to attend the funeral. We have some relatives who had been estranged from the older generation whose existence we became aware of (through an aunt!) after the younger generation all reached adulthood, and the matriarch of that part of the family sends us funeral details for people we had NO IDEA EXISTED until we got the death notice. It's customary to include all of those details, not least because it helps you locate the proper funeral home if you DO want to send flowers. They don't really expect anything of us -- we haven't met them, don't have any contact info other than addresses, etc. We're not involved in the estrangement, have no interest in being involved in the estrangement, do not care who is on whose side, nobody discusses any part of it with us. We just get funeral announcements I guess because that is something family does, let you know when someone you are distantly related to dies. (It's sort-of weird that they don't send birth announcements with the same level of rigor, but I guess finding out someone had a baby you didn't hear about is a happy surprise while finding out someone died and you were just asking how they were doing is awkward.)

Anyway, we just send a condolence card and don't worry about it.

Do what you would do anyway if there was not all this family drama: Don't go to the funeral, send flowers or a card as appropriate, thank your aunt for letting you know if you want to, and don't think of it again.

Some of your relatives may be attempting to play out drama via life events, but YOU do not have to do that; YOU just do exactly what Miss Manners would tell you to do and act like you have no idea anyone else is trying to bring the drama. (It's very hard for other people to engage in drama if you pretend like you don't notice it.) So do the polite funeral things that you would do anyway and arm yourself with etiquette. People can try to read into your actions all kinds of things, but other people will look at them funny. "A busy young person who only had limited contact with the deceased didn't attend the funeral but sent flowers and a card and you think this is rude? On the contrary, sir, you have the politest child on the planet!"

(But I do think you should just read your aunt's actions as simply keeping you in the loop, not as manipulating you. I think it's the most likely explanation, but even if she is being manipulative, the best way to deal with it is to pretend like you don't notice it.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:30 AM on March 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think that your Aunt is making an effort here to reach out to you. She's acknowledging your connection to the family in a way that doesn't involve your father.

I think that your decision to send flowers and not attend is a good one, even if the situation were not so fraught (this is someone you didn't know very well -- it's reasonable for you to not feel the need to be there).

Would you consider, sometime after the funeral is done, giving her a call, just to catch up? When I read this question, and your last, it seems to me that the actions she's taking are those of someone who wants to try to heal wounds, but isn't sure of how her reaching out will be received.

There are lots of reasons why she might not have told you about the surgery, and you're just guessing at which one it could be. The only way to know for sure is to talk to her. Talking to her does not mean that you are forgiving your father.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:35 AM on March 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


sparklemotion: When I read this question, and your last, it seems to me that the actions she's taking are those of someone who wants to try to heal wounds, but isn't sure of how her reaching out will be received.

I agree with this.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:39 AM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is there a chance that your aunt wants you to go because she wants to see you?

I think you should give your aunt the benefit of the doubt and try to see her. Maybe not at the funeral. But some time.
posted by zizzle at 12:23 PM on March 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


How close is your father to your aunt? It might just be him trying to get you to be there. I wouldn't spend too much time about the whole manipulative thing. Would you change your mind about going if you knew your father wanted to meet you but isn't sure how to broach the subject?
posted by asra at 1:33 PM on March 26, 2013


My advice is similar to the last question -- rather than filling yourself with anxiety and beanplating the motives of a relative, I think you should just call her. A lot of this can be settled much better with voices and an exchange. But still, on the other hand, if you just want to keep distance then do as others have suggested -- send her a note of thanks for the information and that's it. You can send flowers or a donation to a memorial fund if you like.

Remember, everyone is grownups here and everyone is responsible for their own relationships. Your father is responsible for his own actions and how they have led to the estrangement between you. The rest of the family is responsible for how they have chosen to act in the face of all this grudge-making. You are responsible for you.
posted by amanda at 2:45 PM on March 26, 2013


Seconding this.
I didn't go to my maternal Grandfather's funeral mainly because I knew I'd get sucked into the drama. Sure, I ruffled some family feathers, but at least I'm not known as the one who participated in drama at my Grandfather's funeral.
posted by luckynerd at 4:26 PM on March 26, 2013


What Etrigan said.

If you do end up at the funeral (or any other family get together) and someone asks you why your father is not speaking to you/disowned you, let them know that it was your father's decision and it's up to him to explain why he is doing it. Put the onus on him.
posted by deborah at 4:53 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm in a similar situation, I'm estranged from my mother, some of her/our relatives died and it's all awkward and awful. My family doesn't know the why of our estrangement, but I haven't been particularly close with any of them since I was a child anyway. None of them have asked my side of the story or checked in with me other than to tell me someone died. My uncle died almost two years ago. I loved him a lot as a child and young adult, and I was very sad to hear he died. But my going to his funeral would have meant drama and taken away from the focus of things, maybe been hurtful to his widow and children (the drama, not my presence) so I didn't go. It hurt, but I think it was right decision. If you WANT to go, you should not let anyone stop you, but if you don't, then don't. And if you don't want to send flowers, don't, and it's okay. Be polite to your aunt, but you don't need to encourage contact.
posted by upatree at 6:36 PM on March 26, 2013


Not exactly answering your question, but as someone coming from a family with a lot of disowning (and personally being at one point estranged from my own father for different reasons for nearly a decade), my situation is not your situation but I want to respond to this:

If he wants me back in the family, then he (and only he) should let me know directly. If he does not, I accept his decisions, but this means sadly that being disowned makes unable to attend family functions where I feel I would not be welcome by father.

I believe that in life (and with family) you can be right or you can be happy, seldom can you be both. What I mean is sometimes people value being right more than they do the broken relationship. They dig in to their positions because they rightfully feel hurt or because they can't for any number of reasons (pride, embarrassment, etc.) admit they are wrong. This is being right. People can also (when it's possible to do so) reestablish relationships without revisiting or explicitly resolving their conflict. There are no apologies, admissions of mistakes made or regrets. It isn't that the past is ignored or irrelevant, but removes the focus from needing to be right. This is being happy. This is also very risky because this is a person extending themselves and not being sure if it will be reciprocated. What if the other person still values being right over being happy. This is where people can get hurt. But people do it because they're willing to take the risk on a relationship (or relationships) that will reward them with greater happiness than the potential hurt. Sometimes they reach out directly, other times indirectly, and maybe sometimes it's the work of a third relative who cares about both parties. I reached out directly to my father (by email, and after nearly a year of wrestling with the decision) and I'm the meddlesome relative who encouraged his uncle to reestablish a relationship with his son.

You sound like you're in a really good place in your life. Stay that way. But if you're interested in reestablishing relationships with your father's side of the family, please don't let needing to be right stand in your way (and hopefully it won't stand in any of theirs.)
posted by dismitree at 7:15 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


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